Perspectives on Business and Economics, Vol. 40

55 Although kelp has great potential to provide economic and environmental value, there are many challenges ahead for this nascent industry. Domestic demand for kelp is small, so farmers facing the uncertainty of introducing a new type of crop with a potentially low selling price may choose to not enter the just emerging market. While there is potential for kelp to help the environment, many of these technologies are new and require a high upfront cost, which may impede profitability. Alaska is positioned to explore new technologies and work to expand consumer markets and increase worldwide demand for kelp and all its related by-products (McKinley Research Group, 2021). Kelp Farming Basics Kelp is just one type of seaweed, and seaweed is a broad group of macroalgae species. All seaweed in Alaska is kelp, but on the world market there are many other varieties of seaweed. Nori, which is used in sushi, and kombu, used in miso soup, are seaweeds common in Asian cuisine but are not kelp and are not grown in Alaska. Species grown in Alaska include sugar, bull, and ribbon kelp (McKinley Research Group, 2021). All kelp farming generally follows the same steps, although the timing and details are different for each species. Spores are harvested in the summer from several kelp plants to maintain genetic diversity. Adult plants release spores at the end of their life, so kelp death is imitated by subjecting the kelp to extreme cold and drying. The microscopic spores are then released into saltwater. Hatcheries submerge sections of PVC piping wound with synthetic twine into this water onto which the spores attach. These spools then are kept in tanks exposed to light where the spores then develop into seedlings. Planting the seedlings in early fall is simple. The spools are unwound in the open ocean and arranged with anchors and buoys in parallel lines. The kelp grows all winter and then typically is harvested in May (Stopha, 2020). Kelp Economic Potential In their report for the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, the McKinley Research group estimated that Alaska’s mariculture industry has the potential to grow to $100M by 2028. This task force is in the process of writing laws and creating programs to further Alaska’s mariculture industry (McDowell Group, 2017). Alaskan Assets Alaska is well suited for kelp farming. Alaska has the longest shoreline in the US and has over 13,000 square miles suitable for offshore kelp farming (Lindell, n.d.). The Alaska Department of Natural Resources leases Alaska’s shoreland to develop aquatic farms (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, n.d.-a). Much of southern Alaska’s coast does not freeze during the winter, and the ice-free season for the rest of Alaska is expected to continue expanding due in large part to climate change (Overbeck, 2018). This means that the state of Alaska has the potential to grant permits for a large number of kelp farms. Alaska also has a suitable labor market and infrastructure for kelp farming. Many jobs in Alaska are seasonal work in the summer. Because kelp farming takes place from September to May, there is a potential for summer workers to find a stable job working on a kelp farm in the winter. Furthermore, most commercial fishing happens in the summer, meaning that commercial fishing equipment like boats, dock space, and processing plants is underutilized during the winter. Kelp also has relatively low processing and shipping costs because harvested seaweed is typically ground and dried, and the resultant seaweed powder is more valuable per pound and therefore more cost effective to store and ship than many other products (McDowell Group, 2017). Market Potential Alaskan kelp is not just one product. Kelp can be sold wet, which requires minimal processing, but is sold at a lower price and has higher storage costs than dried kelp. Generally, wet kelp is sold as a whole food, so the buyers primarily are higher-end food producers making kelp salad, pickles, salsa, or other kelp-based foods. Dried kelp requires an additional process, but after it is dried, it is cheaper to store and sells at a higher price. Dried kelp is sold most often as a food ingredient to food producers for use in kelp pasta or as a flavor additive. Kelp also can be used to make hydrocolloids, which